Helping the process of greater acceptance of Asian art and artists in the western world is the influential scholarship of such intellectuals as Edward Said. Said’s most important work, Orientalism, had played a crucial role in “diverse contexts on both sides of what has been termed the ‘divide’ between ‘East’ and ‘West’, and his critique of representational activity around the ‘Orient’ continues to generate debates in societies seen as falling on both sides of this divide.” (Rastegar, 2008) The most important contribution of Edward Said’s work is its convincing polemic against the conventional view of this divide among western intellectuals. In many ways, Orientalism presents a historically informed study of the evolution of this perception and exposes its weaknesses. For instance, he documented the links between the notions of an unchangeable division between the East and West through the imposition of rigid ideological imperatives. Moreover,
“With power comes the need to generate a kind of knowledge that reinforces this power, and so the academic field of Orientalism (and other representations of the parts of the world known as the Orient) is implicated in the power relations between West and East. This, Said argued, began with the advent of colonialism and was carried over in the global geopolitical power arrangements after the end of colonialism–arrangements that have certainly changed in the last thirty years, but arguably only in ways that underscore the importance of Orientalism’s critique.” (Rastegar, 2008)
Such seminal works as that of Said’s have had a profound effect on the way western collectors and curators began to view Asian art and its attendant cultural meaning. As a result of this new understanding, the Asian artists and their works began to be recognized for their own sense of aesthetic. This is true in the domain of painting and sculpture as it is in the domain of literature. The diverse and vibrant emergence of ethnic literature is a consequence of this radical change in the Western understanding of Asian art in particular and the Oriental culture in general. In other words, “in viewing anew these extraordinary works of art, we come to a better appreciation of the constellation of interests–material, aesthetic, ideological–that have come to frame the way in which the Orient, including the later permutations of this notion, has been imagined and represented in the West” (Rastegar, 2008).
Alongside broader recognition given to art originating from Buddhist philosophical precepts, there have been other parallel developments. A particularly valid case is the understanding among Western art patrons the ways in which Taoism has shaped the evolution of Chinese culture. Previously, without this knowledge, Chinese art was seen and judged based on Western sense of taste and aesthetic appeal. But, with the benefit of a nuanced understanding of Taoism and Chinese culture, the true merits of Chinese art have come to be appreciated in Europe and America. Such eminent art commentators as Kristofer Schipper, Wu Hung, Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt and Patricia Ebrey have been at the forefront of this movement, which has opened up the Western world’s sensibilities with respect to Chinese art and Taoism. In other words, “conveying a new understanding of how Taoists have defined the structure of the natural and divine worlds, and situated humanity in the resulting matrix has impressed Western audiences due to the fact that Taoism is a living religion practiced by Chinese throughout the world today.” (Katz, 2002)
Such art styles as Laozi and the Daode jing, have been explicated in the context of Chinese cultural history, making it easier for Western art aficionados to appreciate Chinese art. The uniquely Chinese art movement, referred in the West as the Celestial Master movement, along with other remarkable original art traditions founded upon Taoist precepts have not only enriched Chinese culture and history but have also opened new vistas of spirituality for Western art lovers. (Katz, 2002)